As I delved into the pages, I quickly became unsettled. I was reading the story of Hannah in 1 Samuel 1-2. The chapter begins this way, “Elkanah had two wives, Hannah and Penninah. Penninah had children, but Hannah did not.” At this time in history, people thought the inability to have children was a curse from God. Therefore, Penninah is considered blessed, and Hannah is considered cursed. I can only imagine what Hannah must have felt like in this situation. Surely, she must have struggled with this reality. The story continues, “Penninah would taunt Hannah and make fun of her because the Lord had kept her from having children.” Ugh. What a slap in the face! How cruel. Not only is Hannah left desperate for the one thing she can’t have, she is stuck living with a woman who daily ridicules her for something she can’t control. And it gets worse. The Scripture reads, “Year after year, it was the same. Penninah would taunt Hannah . . . and Hannah would be reduced to tears and would not even eat.” Year after year. Unceasing anguish with no end in sight. I grew weary just reading about it. I shut my Bible.
I was upset. Even though I already knew what was coming in the story (spoiler alert: Hannah eventually has a son), the ending no longer seemed sufficient to me. I was dissatisfied. Why did this awful season in Hannah’s life have to exist? Why did God allow it to pervade for so many years? Why didn’t he act sooner? It hit too close to home for me.
I empathized with Hannah and I ached with her. The question I really wanted an answer to was one from my own narrative. Why did God allow my awful season to exist? I was coming out of what had been one of the most difficult times of my life. One of my worst fears had been realized. The dark clouds of depression that had plagued so many of my family members had finally caught up with me. I don’t know how to adequately describe depression. It is unreasonable and uncooperative and unrelenting. It demands every part of your life. It eats away at you until you’re not sure there is anything left of the person you once were. Hannah’s depression reminded me of my own, and I hated that.
As I had become accustomed to doing, I went to God with my frustration.
Instead of asking why, I found myself praying, “God, show me who you are in Hannah’s story. Show me who you are in mine.”
I began to read the Scriptures again, this time with new eyes. I wrote down every reference to God in the passage. First, he is mentioned as the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. The imagery here is of the One who rules over everything. This God exercises His authority and judges rightly against the unfair actions of others, like Penninah. This God defends the mistreated, like Hannah. Next he is called by his proper name, Yahweh. Yahweh literally translates “I AM” in Hebrew. Every time he is mentioned by this name in the story, it is as if God is reminding, “I AM in this story. I AM in control.” He is present. He has not abandoned his daughter. He sees and he knows and he will act on her behalf. Finally, in what is perhaps my favorite reference, he is called the God of Israel. This name is significant and important because it carries with it the weight of every promise God ever made and subsequently fulfilled to the nation of Israel. Behind this name is an extensive history of faithfulness and trustworthiness. As I continued to study who God was in Hannah’s story, I became more and more aware of who he is in mine. Hannah’s Judge is my Judge. Hannah’s Rescuer is my Rescuer. Hannah’s God is my God. When I turned my eyes to him, it put everything into perspective. While my agony did not immediately disappear, its impact lessened in light of the oceans of his compassion, comfort and provision.
I love the Bible because it is raw and real. It doesn’t deny that, at times, life is unfair and cruel and full of anguish year after year. It tackles this fact head-on and it shows us that in the midst of life’s trials, there is hope. His name is Yahweh and he is a fiercely committed, ever-present, all-powerful, trustworthy, promise-keeping God.